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Guest op-ed: The US needs to vaccinate its overseas citizens

By Bryan Stubbles - Special to the Daily Herald | Jan 6, 2022

Binsar Bakkara, Associated Press

A health worker gives a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a man during a vaccination campaign at a community health center in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021.

Joe Biden needs to fulfill his promise to vaccinate all Americans (whitehouse.gov “President Biden Announces New Actions to Protect Americans” Dec. 2, 2021). Variations of this headline pop up again and again in the U.S. media. It is a lie. The U.S. has taken absolutely zero steps to help vaccinate the estimated 9 million Americans living abroad.

It is official U.S. State Department policy not to vaccinate overseas Americans. They directly state this on embassy websites. Biden’s spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said it in a press conference on May 5, 2021. The U.S. embassy in Jakarta stated it in a letter the vice-consul wrote to Utah Congressman Blake Moore’s office when his staff tried to help me obtain a vaccine (letter in my possession dated Dec. 1, 2021).

Many Americans are in this situation. The State Department estimates 9 million Americans live overseas (www.americansabroad.org). This does not make them any less American than the folks back home. Again, it’s disheartening to see the disconnect between Biden’s rhetoric and reality. They do vote. I personally know of several Americans abroad who can’t get vaccines, including myself.

My six-month visit to Indonesia has turned into nearly two years. Like many travelers, I was stranded when the pandemic hit. The Indonesian government has kindly extended my visa multiple times. However, I don’t qualify for a vaccine under local protocols. I can’t go back to the States because I must transit through countries that require vaccinations for anyone entering — vaccines overseas Americans can’t get. It would be unwise to travel internationally as an unvaccinated traveler anyways.

What makes this even more depressing is the U.S. has been donating hundreds of millions of vaccines internationally. These vaccines are needed and appreciated. The U.S. Embassy’s website is currently cooing about the donation last week of 3.3 million Pfizer vaccine doses to Indonesia (id.usembassy.gov). No American living here will receive even one of them. The U.S. government has donated 352 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries (www.state.gov) and 28 million to Indonesia.

Originally, I was content to wait. It wouldn’t be fair to Indonesians if the U.S. just vaccinated their own people and nobody else. However, after many months, Indonesians who want to be vaccinated have several vaccines to choose from.

There are solutions. Congress can quickly pass legislation authorizing vaccines for all Americans. The president can also issue an executive order authorizing vaccines for overseas Americans. The U.S. doesn’t even have to administer the vaccines. They could negotiate with host nations to vaccinate Americans. The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, for example, has an email address to help Americans in Thailand find vaccines. The U.S. could donate vaccines with the caveat that its citizens have access to the donated vaccines. There is precedent. France and China have vaccinated their overseas citizens. It’s time for America to back its words with actions.

Bryan Stubbles is a writer and translator. He is originally from Layton and earned a B.A. in film studies from the University of Utah. Many, many years ago, he was a paperboy for the Standard-Examiner. Megan Slattery, an American residing in Indonesia, also contributed to this op-ed.

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